E&T news weekly #60 – we choose our favourite engineering and technology news stories from the week

September 4, 2015

Ooh, la la. Back from its French-style, month-long August holiday, our weekly news picks yawns, stretches and comes to life once more.

Friday September 4 2015

Rebecca Northfield  Rebecca Northfield, assistant features editor
Contactless payment jacket fashioned for Barclaycard

A fashion firm has come up with the idea of a jacket that you can use to contactlessly pay for things, because that’s what we all need in our lives. Lyle & Scott, based in London, has worked with Barclaycard and created a fashionable contactless payment jacket for all you busy men out there who can’t be bothered to reach into your bags or pockets to get your card out. What if you got mugged and the person demanded your jacket, because it looked good? They could use it to purchase things before you got the chance to cancel your card/jacket, whilst looking dapper. The jacket – which comes in two colours – is designed so you can tap your sleeve on a card reader when you want to pay for your bits and pieces. Barclaycard’s bPay technology is in the cuffs and the chip in the jacket can be linked to any UK registered Visa or MasterCard credit or debit card for purchases up to £30. It sells for £150 and is “ground-breaking” according to Lyle & Scott. Of course.

Jonathan Wilson  Jonathan Wilson, online managing editor
Silk Road investigator admits diverting $800,000 in bitcoins

One day, perhaps the full story about the Silk Road website will become known, a story populated by kingpins masquerading under pseudonyms such as the Dread Pirate Roberts in one corner and now, we learn, corrupt law-enforcement agents in the other. Investigating agent Shaun Bridges has pleaded guilty to siphoning off $800,000 worth of bitcoins from the site, diverting them in to his own bank account, while a colleague, Carl Force, has admitted charges of extortion, money laundering and obstruction of justice. As with any juicy mystery, always follow the money to uncover the truth.

Nissan invests £100m in Juke production at Sunderland

Having known people who worked at Nissan’s Sunderland manufacturing plant, I can appreciate how important the factory is to the economy and well-being of the local population. To hear that the Japanese motor company has committed a further £100m to build its next-generation Juke crossover vehicles at the plant is simply great news.

Lorna Sharpe  Lorna Sharpe, sub-editor
‘See-through’ trailer tech removes blind spots

This sounds really useful for people who have to tow horse boxes or caravans. Researchers at Land Rover have been demonstrating a ‘transparent trailer’ system at this year’s Burghley Horse Trials that combines video feeds from the test vehicle’s standard reversing camera and wing-mirror cameras with an additional feed from a wireless camera on the back of the trailer, so what the driver sees in the rear-view mirror is an image of the road behind with just a faint outline of the trailer, as if it really was see-through.

Network Rail reveals new ‘workshop on wheels’

A new fleet of ‘mobile maintenance trains’ (MMTs) looks set to make life a lot easier for the people who repair our railway network, and also for everyone who uses it. The trains will carry the maintenance teams and all their equipment and materials to where they are needed and then provide a protected and sheltered area while the work is carried out, progressing slowly along the track as required. It means that there’ll be no need to close adjacent lines, greatly reducing disruption for passengers and freight operators.

Aasha Bodhani  Aasha Bodhani, industry features editor
Starfish-killing robot to protect Great Barrier Reef

The Great Barrier Reef’s coral reef ecosystems can be saved, thanks to Australian researchers who have developed a robot to kill the venomous crown-of-thorns sea star. The COTSbot can stay in water for up to eight hours and kill more than 200 sea stars with a single shot of salt. Its performance will be trialled next month.

dominic-lenton  Dominic Lenton, managing editor
NHS health records available online next year

Big public-sector IT projects don’t have a great track record, so I won’t be the only person wondering whether the government is getting ahead of itself by announcing that we’ll be able to able to access some aspects of our NHS records on mobile devices within a year, with more comprehensive information available by 2018. That’s a brave commitment, particularly when the Care Quality Commission is only just embarking of a review of data security. The health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, is confident that something called ‘intelligent transparency’ will ensure everything stays confidential. Privacy advocates and organisations like the BMA have already expressed reservations, particularly as users will be able to add their own information. How would you feel about someone who’d managed to hack into your NHS record being able to do that?

Vitali Vitaliev  Vitali Vitaliev, features editor
Starfish-killing robot to protect Great Barrier Reef

This news story brought back memories of my Great Barrier Reef scuba diving session in July 1991, when the Melbourne Age newspaper, for which I then worked as a senior writer, dispatched me on an assignment to Queensland to report on how “banana-benders” (an affectionate Cockney-style Aussie vernacular for “Queenslanders”) spend their leisure. Scuba diving, alongside bungee jumping, white-water rafting and paragliding, was high on their holiday agenda, so after a quick training session in a swimming pool, I put on my heavy gear and – accompanied by an instructor – jumped into the emerald waters of the Great Barrier Reef. The underwater world was colourful and utterly fascinating, although I had to spend most of my energy trying to keep vertical in my gear. At some point, I noticed (from the corner of my eye) a large quickly moving shadow on my right, but had no time to explore what was behind it, for the instructor started making frantic upwards gestures with his thumb – a signal to get back to the surface immediately.
“Did you see it??” he shouted the moment we took off our diving masks.
“What??” I asked gasping for air frantically.
“The killer shark on your right!”
It gives me creeps even now to recall that incident. I was lucky of course, but reading the story about the star-fish killing robot, I couldn’t help thinking that a shark-killing one would probably be more appropriate. Well, if not “shark-killing”, then a “shark-scaring” one perhaps? Just a thought, you know.

BTPT: #Bizarre, #pointless #technologies: #smart umbrella, electronic fly swatter, G+Didi washing machine, calming wristband

August 26, 2015

By Rebecca Northfield

With the wind and the rain beating down our summer happiness, I begin to reminisce on the beautiful, albeit brief, warm weather we had and the joy it brought me. When the winter months come knocking, I often think of what reminds me of summer to make me feel better, wishing that I didn’t have to get out my winter coat in preparation for the dismal weather to come.

Guard n Care Electronic Fly Swatter

So I ask you: what reminds you of summer?

The scent of sun lotion? The sand embedded in your toes? Smokey barbeques? Melted ice cream on your fingers? English summer rain? Squeals of delight from children playing in the sea?

Flies? Disgusting, nasty flies?

Not all flies are gross, but some do deserve electrical fury.

Not all flies are gross, but some do deserve electrical fury (I’m looking at you, bluebottle).

They are a symbol for everything revolting in this world. They spring up all over the place and everything is a target for their bacteria-ridden bodies. Including your home.

Like me, if a fly had been terrorising your personal space for longer than you can stand, you attempt to extinguish this infuriating tiny flying life. You swat, and miss. You’re a bad shot. You chase the winged demon around the room, cursing its hundreds of ever-seeing eyes.

You pick up your Guard n Care electronic fly swatter and become engrossed in your own mission impossible. You ignore the other person walking into the room and fly goes straight for him, hoping for shelter from the enraged giant beast with a swatter. You then hit your fellow human with the electrical execution device. Right in the face. You just killed the fly with a dose of electricity and the person you assaulted looks angry. Whoops. Great scenario, right?

I’ll just stick to my Mr Miyagi karate kid skills, thanks. Or use a newspaper, or a shoe. Household items are always good weapons to squish pests with.

Ever seen Karate Kid? Then catching a fly with chopsticks is no big deal

Ever seen Karate Kid? Then catching a fly with chopsticks is no big deal

Plus, I’ll always be a little bit tempted to touch the electronic swatter, which would probably end in disaster.

The Guard n Care electronic fly swatter is £8.65, which is a lot more than a rolled-up newspaper, unless it’s a weekend edition of the New York Times.

Kisha Umbrella

Summer rain is inevitable. One can become flustered when the pitter-patter sounds of the sky leaking hits the ground. However, you always keep your umbrella close at hand, because the unpredictability of the British weather makes you forever suspicious of the skies. If it’s sunny, there is always a chance of the ominous grey clouds looming over, ready to ruin the perfectly fine day. I have my weather app handy on my iPhone, so I know what it will (probably) be like when I trundle my way back home from work, brolly at the ready if the sky looks miserable. It’s just sensible to check the weather before you venture outside.

However, the makers of the Kisha – the world’s first smart umbrella – think differently, and is the answer to all of our rainy prayers. It looks like a normal umbrella, but it contains a Bluetooth coin-sized chip that can track its whereabouts via your phone, so you can ‘never’ lose it and will alert you if you’ve left it behind.

You can stand under my umbrella...ella...ella

You can stand under my umbrella…ella…ella

The downloadable app lets you know what will happen with the day’s weather, its precipitation levels and tells you whether you ought to take your umbrella. I check my normal weather app and get pretty much the same result. So paying £50 for a brolly is really worth it, right? It is 100 per cent windproof and can stand 120mph gales, naturally. I would expect that from a 50 quid umbrella though, wouldn’t you?

G+Didi washing machine

When it does rain, things can get a little messy. Dirt on your trousers, rain dampening your clothes, mud splattered on your back from riding your bicycle through the tough terrains. You’re exhausted and can barely press a button once you’ve loaded the washing machine. What do you do? You tell it to clean those clothes (link NSFW)!

Life was simpler in to 50's

Life was simpler in to 50’s

Galanz, a Chinese electrical manufacturer, introduced the G+Didi in July. It comes with voice APP control and is said to be a landmark in the washing machine industry. Pressing buttons is such a chore these days. You have to turn the washing machine on, switch to the appropriate temperature and mode, and press start! Phew! The machine also sends you a text when it’s finished.

This miraculous, time-saving piece of technology is on sale soon. However, you will have to speak Chinese. Bummer.

I’d rather have a washing machine that loads itself, as that seems to always be the more difficult part.

Doppel Wristband

After washing and packing all of the clothes that you need for your summer holiday, you check your itinerary. Where is the sun lotion? Did I remember the toothpaste? Is everything packed in appropriate bags? What about airport security? Will I be frisked? The airport will be busy! Did I pack the underwear? Did I pack enough? I’m going to have to check it again!

Let’s just say, you can get a little stressed. Why not try a Doppel, a wristband that uses your body’s natural biorhythms to sort out your mood, because a wristband will sort all of your body’s problems, surely?

It will pulse you to a sort of calm.

When you stroke it – you have to do this in an arc-like movement – it will pulse slowly to calm you down if you’re stressed. If you squeeze it when you’re tired it pulsates quickly to help you focus. Think of it like this: if someone lightly pokes me again and again, over and over, I may become slightly annoyed. If I’m tired and already cranky from a lack of sleep, my fuse would be just a wee bit shorter, and the Doppel would find a new home in the bin.

Now breathe, and calm.

Now breathe, and calm.

The theory of biorhythms led the Doppel team to create the device, which designer Neil Bennett says could especially help anxiety sufferers apparently.

The team raised over £111,000 from their Kickstarter campaign with the help of 820 backers, and they’re taking orders for their first batch now, if you’re interested in the most calming wristband you’ll ever wear.

#DrinkableBook could save lives by purifying water page by page – an annotated infographic

August 19, 2015

Each pull-out page of the “Drinkable Book” contains nanoparticles of silver that can kill waterborne bacteria and purify up to 100 litres of water. In trials, the paper successfully removed more than 99 per cent of bacteria.

The research is being presented at this week’s American Chemical Society’s national meeting.

E&T news covered the Drinkable Book story earlier this week.

Click on the graphic for an expanded view.

For those with a thirst for knowledge

For those with a thirst for knowledge

Connected homes become the next #IoT and #wearables domestic battleground – an annotated infographic

August 12, 2015

The “Internet of Things” is the next major technology battle, pitting the likes of Google’s Nest against Apple’s HomeKit for dominance of the smart home.

We remain cheerfully dubious about the genuinely beneficial merits of the ‘smart home’. We’ve never once returned to our reassuringly stupid homes and bemoaned their lack of intelligence, so in what ways will a ‘smarter’ home truly improve our lives? Convince us, boffins!

Naturally, E&T magazine is still keeping a close eye on all things IoT. If things that talk to other things to make some things happen is your bag, you might very well enjoy our Internet of Things news and features page, which neatly gathers together all our IoT coverage in one dynamic place.

Click on the graphic for an expanded view.

Smart home: dumb idea

Smart home: dumb idea

Google’s Alphabet complicates the simplification – an annotated infographic

August 12, 2015

Google has restructured to create a new holding company called Alphabet, separating its core web advertising business from newer ventures like driverless cars.

The planned structure resembles that employed by General Electric, with a central unit handling corporate-wide activities such as finance and relatively independent business units focused on specific areas.

Analysts have interpreted the move as an attempt to focus on some of its more ambitious projects in areas such as wearable devices, driverless cars, home automation and Internet connectivity.

The irony of this somewhat underwhelming announcement (it must be August for this to be such big news) is that one of the world’s biggest Web companies and technological tastemakers and leaders failed to check whether (a) the domain name Alphabet.com was available (it isn’t) and that the Twitter handle @Alphabet was available (it isn’t).

Click on the graphic for an expanded view.

Easy as A, B, err... G?

Easy as A, B, err… G?

Japan’s nuclear industry set for revival after #Fukushima – an annotated infographic

August 10, 2015

Japan is preparing to restart its fleet of mothballed nuclear reactors under a new safety regime introduced in the wake of the 2011 Fukushima accident.

24 out of Japan’s 43 operable reactors have applied for restart permits. The first one to be approved is the Sendai plant on the southern island of Kyushu, which could be back online as soon as August 10.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is keen to revive the nuclear plants to reduce Japan’s reliance on expensive fossil fuel imports, which have driven up electricity prices and increased the country’s trade deficit.

Click on the graphic for an expanded view.

Japan's nuclear reboot

Japan’s nuclear reboot

Lexus Slide hoverboard demonstrated on video – an annotated infographic

August 6, 2015

Lexus is fine-tuning its levitating skateboard, the Lexus Hoverboard, in Barcelona, and has released a video showcasing the full scale of the device’s abilities.

The smoke-emitting hoverboard, relying on superconducting magnets cooled to minus 197 degrees Celsius with liquid nitrogen, could be seen put to test by accomplished skateboarders in a palm tree dotted skateboard park.

E&T news reported on the Lexus hoverboard story earlier today. We’ve got the cool videos of it up there, as well. Check it out.

Click on the graphic for an expanded view.

Back to the future

Back to the future

#Hiroshima honours 70th anniversary of the city’s atomic annihilation by the USA – an annotated infographic

August 6, 2015

A minute of silence this morning commemorated the 150,000 victims of the world’s first nuclear explosion targeted to kill civilians – the American attack on Japan’s Hiroshima, which took place 70 years ago today.

Uranium fission that provided the basis for the construction of a nuclear weapon was first described by German scientists in 1938. America was thus impelled to fast-track the development of the atomic bomb technology with the knowledge that the Germans had got a headstart.

E&T news reported on the Hiroshima 70th anniversary event earlier today.

Click on the graphic for an expanded view.




#HitchBOT could be revived to enjoy further hitchhiking adventures – an annotated infographic

August 5, 2015

Huzzah! Following the public outcry at hitchBOT’s untimely violent demise in Philadelphia (“City of brotherly love” my arse), the roaming robot’s Canadian creators have floated the possibility of resurrecting his remains and giving the human-trusting bot another shot at fulfilling his road trip dreams. HitchBOT 2, Son of HitchBOT: this time it’s personal.

Having successfully ventured across the entirety of Canada, then enjoyed a European vacation touring around Germany and the Netherlands, hitchBOT was sadly vandalised and destroyed near the start of his maiden trip across the USA. He had dreams of going to San Francisco and wearing flowers in his robot hair, but it wasn’t to be. We hope hitchBOT gets a second shot at making it to California.

Click on the graphic for an expanded view.

Thumbs up for hitchBOT 2

Thumbs up for hitchBOT 2

Atomic bomb test site leaking radiation – an annotated infographic

August 3, 2015

Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time. Exploding A-bombs in the Bikini Tests on remote Pacific islands, marvelling at the mushroom clouds produced, then two decades later realising that it would probably be wise to gather all the nuclear detritus from these sunshine shenanigans and concrete over it all, before sidling away, whistling nonchalantly.

So it went in the 1950s and then the 1970s.

Now, the giant concrete dome – the Cactus Dome – put in place and filled with nuclear waste is leaking radiation. Built in the late 1970s on one of those remote Pacific islands which the US military gleefully contaminated in the 1950s, it is succumbing to weathering and the effects of the sea. One might say, unsurprisingly.

Scientists are now more than mildly concerned that a typhoon or storm surge could crack the dome wide open, unleashing the decaying atomic delights therein. Super.

Click on the graphic for an expanded view.

Leaking nuclear bomb blast site

Leaking nuclear bomb blast site


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